Getting the kids ready for back to school can be a crazy time for any family raising kids, but this particular year holds a lot of new transitions for Keith and Rachel Evans. The Evans’ just sent their oldest, Xavier, off to PLEBE (a newly entered cadet or freshman) at the Naval Academy on June 28, while their youngest, Hillary, age 3, will be starting pre-school in another week. And they have five more in between: Lucy, 16, an incoming senior; Luke, 14, a freshman; Mary Ava, 10, fifth grade; Jude, 9, fourth grade; and Emmelia, 6, first grade.
“I know that sounds crazy to some people, and it does get a little nutty sometimes in our house, just like anybody’s house does, but this is our normal. It works for us,” Rachel said, looking not the least bit stressed. “We’re not perfect. Our house is not the cleanest. We lose our cool sometimes. But we love it. This is what God blessed us with.”
A morning before school in the Evans house does not mean frantically pouring seven bowls of cereal at once and setting up assembly lines for seven lunches — that’s not the case at all. Except for the youngest one, who still needs a little help, everybody makes their own breakfast, packs their own lunch, and heads out the door. “I think one major difference is, most parents of two kids do everything for those two kids. Those two get all your focus. We can’t do that,” Rachel explains. “Ours have to do most things for themselves.”
Another thing parents with a couple kids don’t realize about having a large family is that the older kids can help. Or “built-in babysitters” as Rachel calls them. “And I think there’s some really positive things that happen. It’s amazing what a baby in the house will do for a teenager. They become more mature, more self aware, more caring. And they all learn to rely on each other. It’s beautiful to see.”
Keith seems equally content with a house full of kids, but says there was definitely a defining moment for him. “Three blew my mind. Having our third changed everything for me because it wasn’t just two and two anymore. I had to become less selfish. I had to recommit to my marriage, to being a better dad. It was a good spiritual experience for me. But then after that, four was really no different and the rest just kept coming and we were fine.”
Here are some gems of wisdom Keith and Rachel have found helpful for transitioning back to school and managing a large family throughout the year as well.
Shopping with “Clicklist”
Rachel remembers an exhausting experience taking six school-aged children back to school shopping at the same time. She vowed never to do that again. But taking them individually isn’t very time-efficient either. “Now I can sit at home, click my list for everybody, and then just go to the store and pick it up. Game changer!”
Cozi family planner App
The Evans’ swear by the Cozi family calendar app. Mom, dad and the kids with phones all have the app. Everyone is color coded and everyone can add things to the calendar, make comments, send reminders and get notifications. According to Rachel, “I used to keep a big paper calendar, but this way Keith can add things during the work day, or I can make changes on the fly, or the kids can after school, and everybody knows what’s going on.”
Smooth mornings start the night before
Keith says routine is huge in minimizing chaos. Each kid has a cubby for their shoes. Uniforms are laid out the night before. They all have a set chore in the morning and everybody does their part.
Be intentional with time together
With so many different schedules, the Evans crew might not all be home at the same time every night for supper, but whoever is, sits down to eat together. “Night time prayers are big in our house too,” Keith says. “That’s the one time when we get everybody together. No matter what, we stop and pray at the same time each night.” And equally important, Keith and Rachel are intentional with “mom and dad” time too. “Weekly date nights don’t work for us, but we go away for an overnight at least twice a year just to connect,” Rachel says. “And we try to go on a date night once a month so we can finish a full conversation.”
Allow them to take responsibility
Keith learned from his coaching days that kids are capable of doing a lot more things than parents typically ask them to. “Most kids by 4 or 5 can get the milk out themselves, pour their cereal, then rinse the bowl and put it in the dishwasher. You may have to clean up a milk mess from time to time, but giving them that responsibility is way better in the long run.” By high school, Rachel teaches the kids do their own laundry and that becomes their responsibility too. “It’s crucial that they become independent adults.”
Enjoy the off-season
For most families, not being over-committed and too busy is a challenge. At one time they had six kids in four ball leagues, which meant they had to divide and conquer. “I think it’s important to have a down season to relax too, so we savor the time off,” Rachel says. And Sundays are always family days.
Let them find “their thing”
Keith believes “it’s key to meet your kids where they are. We tell our kids your vocation is who you are – not what you do.” To which Rachel added, “We know they won’t all be in the Navy Academy and that’s okay. We don’t expect them to. We want them to follow their own interests.”
It takes a village
Both Keith and Rachel’s parents help a lot. They jokingly call Keith’s mom “Saint Mary Jo” because she does everything. “We trade kids with other family members for sleepovers too, and that gives them somebody new to play with,” Keith says. Rachel is also in a mom’s prayer group and a Tuesday morning play group during the summer.